Tag Archives: Testimonium Flavianum

Shirley Jackson Case: Inadvertent Omissions

When I consulted my reading notes for the recent post on Case’s The Historicity of Jesus, I noticed a couple of things I had meant to comment on, but left out. In this post I seek to atone for my sins of omission.

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O’Neill-Fitzgerald “Christ Myth” Debate, #10: Josephus as Evidence & the Arabic Version of the Testimonium

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All posts in this series are archived in the O’Neill-Fitzgerald Debate

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Tim O’Neill (TO) rightly says of some of the evidence for the historical existence of Jesus:

After all, no-one except a fundamentalist apologist would pretend that the evidence about Jesus is not ambiguous and often difficult to interpret with any certainty, and that includes the evidence for his existence. (O’Neill, 2011)

Yet curiously not a single aspect of evidence addressed by either David Fitzgerald (DF) or himself in his reviews of DF’s work has hit on anything that he finds ambiguous or difficult to interpret. In every point of disagreement TO suggests DF is nothing but a liar or a fool.

The first unambiguous retort TO makes to DF’s treatment of Josephus is the dogmatic assertion that Josephus mentions Jesus twice. No argument. No ambiguity. No uncertainty.

Josephus does mention Jesus – twice.  So any Myther book or article [arguing the Christ Myth thesis] has to spill a lot of ink trying to explain these highly inconvenient mentions away.

Then again,

[T]he passage has Josephus saying things about Jesus that no Jewish non-Christian would say, such as “He was the Messiah” and “he appeared to them alive on the third day”.  So, not surprisingly, Fitzgerald takes the usual Myther [Christ Myth] tack and rejects the whole passage as a later addition and rejects the idea that Josephus mentioned Jesus here at all.

Interpolation a “mythicist” argument?

This is most curious. The actual fact is that most mainstream scholars until after the Second World War generally agreed that the entire passage was an interpolation. Or if not entirely an interpolation, the fact that it had been tampered with at all rendered it useless as historical evidence. I have quoted the evidence for the prevalence of these views in my post, What they used to say about Josephus as evidence for Jesus.

Today, however, it seems that “the majority of scholars” accept the contrary view, that Josephus did indeed say something about Jesus beneath the obvious Christian overlay. Given that most New Testament scholars are ideologically predisposed to belief in Jesus, and that Josephus’s testimony is the only non-biblical evidence we have from the first century for Jesus, I would not be surprised if a majority did think this. But so what? If a significant minority still leans towards the view that the entire Josephan passages is a forgery or useless as evidence, then it hardly seems reasonable to dismiss this view as the preserve of Christ Myth supporters.

Sociological explanation for the revised view of Josephus as evidence

The evidence is essentially the same. (Although in 1971 Arabic and Syriac versions of the Testimonium were also brought to light.) What has changed are the trends in interpretation of the evidence.

One sees a possible explanation for this new trend in Alice Whealey’s 2003 book, Josephus on Jesus, and again in her article, “The Testimonium Flavianum in Syriac and Arabic” in New Testament Studies, Vol. 54, Issue 4, Oct 2008, pp. 573-590. In the latter she explains:

In fact, much of the past impetus for labeling the textus receptus Testimonium a forgery has been based on earlier scholars’ anachronistic assumptions that, as a Jew, Josephus could not have written anything favorable about Jesus. Contemporary scholars of primitive Christianity are less inclined than past scholars to assume that most first-century Jews necessarily held hostile opinions of Jesus, and they are more aware that the line between Christians and non-Christian Jews in Josephus’ day was not as firm as it would later become. (p. 575)

This says loads. It is a virtual confession that the shift in interpretation has been motivated to a significant extent as a reaction against both real and perceived strains of anti-semitism in earlier scholarship. The error here is that the personal bias and values of Josephus himself are trumped by an impulse to undo an earlier generation’s sins of negative stereotyping. The context in which the passage occurs is also bypassed. Josephus personally loathed any movement that stood in opposition to the political and religious status quo under Roman rule. Taking seriously both the personal bias of Josephus and the context in which the Testimonium Flavianum is found (it is in a list of calamities befalling the Jews in which the TF fits as comfortably as a pimple on one’s nose), even the so-called “neutral” core of that TF is problematic. read more »

O’Neill-Fitzgerald “Christ Myth” Debate, #9: Josephus, 1 – Dave Fitzgerald on the Testimonium

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All posts in this series are archived in the O’Neill-Fitzgerald Debate

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Tim O’Neill (TO) expresses a most worthy ideal in an exchange with David Fitzgerald (DF):

What a careful, honest or even just competent treatment of the subject would do would be to deal with all relevant positions throughout the analysis . . . (O’Neill, 2013)

One would expect to find in TO’s review of DF’s book, Nailed!, therefore, at the very least, an honest acknowledgement of arguments in that book. Unfortunately anyone reading TO’s review would have no idea of DF’s overall argument on any point TO chooses to address.

Since I began these posts taking the trouble to expose TO’s bluff, ignorance and pretentious nonsense, the good man himself has responded by saying my posts are “nitpicking” and symptoms of a man “obsessed with him”. I can only smile with contentment over a job done reasonably well if that’s the best his vanity can muster in his defence.

Now it’s time to address TO’s criticism of DF’s discussion of the evidence of Josephus for the historicity of Jesus. This will take a few posts to complete. Let’s begin the way any honest reviewer of a work should always begin — that is, set out the arguments of the author one is reviewing. Since TO forgot this step I will outline the first of DF’s points here, and then we will compare TO’s initial critique.

I hope that these posts will have more value than they might if they were nothing more than responses to TO’s nonsense. Hopefully issues and arguments will be raised that some readers will find informative for their own sake.

DF’s chapter 3 is titled “Myth No. 3: Josephus Wrote About Jesus”. The first passage he addresses is the famous “Testimonium Flavianum” from book 18 of the Jewish historian’s Antiquities of the Jews. It translates as:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure.

He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles.

He was (the) Christ.

And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.

And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day. read more »

How they used to debate the evidence of Josephus for the historical Jesus

Continuing from my previous two posts my little roll on Jesus Not A Myth by “anti-mythicist” A. D. Howell Smith (1942). . . .

I love reading those book reviews that introduce me to the arguments under review. I have read many worthless reviews that pique my interest in their subjects despite their efforts to turn me away. One was by a seasoned scholar who blasted George Athas’s publication of his thesis on the Tel Dan inscription. The reviewer spent most of his time attacking Athas personally (he was too much an academic novice to be attempting to discuss such a serious topic!) and appealing to the authority of traditional views. That sort of review raises my suspicions that there is something in a work by the likes of Athas that the reviewer cannot handle, so I am more curious to find out what it is.

Albert Schweitzer also outlines arguments of various mythicists of his day in order to explain what he believes are their weaknesses (and even strengths in some cases).

So it is with Howell Smith’s Jesus Not a Myth. It is not easy to track down older books on mythicism, but I was lucky to stumble across Jesus Not a Myth some years back and find it a valuable resource to catching glimpses of the contents of mythicist arguments early last century — and, of course, to compare rejoinders to those arguments.

Here is another excerpt, this time on the evidence of Josephus, pp. 15-18. read more »

Political context of the current Testimonium Flavianum “consensus”

Reading James Crossley’s Jesus in an Age of Terror I can’t help but wonder how his thesis applies to Jesus debates he fails to address.

Is it a coincidence that the shift in academic “consensus” that the Jesus passage in Jesus (the Testimonium Flavianum) is at least partly authentic appears to have roughly coincided with a shift to stress the “Jewishness” (at least in part) of Jesus?

This can only be speculative in the details, of course, but there can be no doubt that prevailing scholarly views in the social sciences and arts do shift with the prevailing historical political and social swings of their homelands. Crossley’s book is only one of the latest reminders of this simple fact when he demonstrates the scholarly shifts in Jesus studies with the shifts in prevailing cultural nationalisms and ideologies and social upheavals throughout the twentieth century.

The “emerging consensus” that Jesus was indeed an essentially Jewish religious figure only gained traction after the 1967 Israeli invasion and conquest of East Jerusalem, parts of Syria and the West Bank, aka as The Six Day War. I was old enough to recall the way this was reported in the media at the time: a hapless Jewish David gained a miraculous ascendancy over an overwhelming and deceitfully plotting Arab Goliath. This political propaganda was never questioned or critiqued by the media but consistently reported as fact, and more powerfully than fact, as a re-enactment of the biblical myth. Only ten years earlier the U.S. sided with Egypt against Israeli aggression and forced a retreat. But the 1967 war proved the secured usefulness of Israel to western interests. Now suddenly it was like deja vu all over again from the jingoistic days of the late nineteenth century. Preachers ensured that Western imperial expansionist interests of Gold and Glory went hand in glove with God.

Only this time the focal scriptures were not “go into all the world and make disciples of all the heathen” but “in the last days Zion will be a trembling to the nations” etc.

I won’t repeat here all the details Crossley (and others) have cited for the shift in historical Jesus scholarship to seeing Jesus as essentially Jewish. But the general idea is that from 1967 onwards it became more fashionable in society in general and academe in particular to see Jewishness as a long-overdue positive thing. The Jews of today, as seen through the prism of Israel, could be seen as acting out their biblical template. Their resettlement in Palestine really could be associated with a focus in Jerusalem, etc. It was not only a bad thing, post Holocaust, to dislike Jews; it was a good thing to praise and side with them now.

It was finally a “politically correct” thing to make Jesus as Jewish as possible. Anything less risked suspicions of anti-semitism. Only not “too Jewish” — a “marginal Jew” would do. Western values still necessarily prevailed over the semitic. Jesus must still be found to “transcend” his Jewishness.

(Another application of Crossley’s argument, I believe, relates to the establishment response to the mythical Jesus hypothesis. But I’ve discussed the political and cultural contexts of this elsewhere. Will revise and repeat here in a future post.)

So to cut to the chase, since I’ve been discussing Josephus and the Testimonium . . . .

I have no proof. Only questions, but no harm in asking and considering. And in one of my recent posts I referred to Earl Doherty’s observation that this shift in consensus view on the partial reliability of the TF is a latter second century phenomenon.

Might the trend in the latter half of the twentieth century to see the only candidate for the Jewish evidence for Jesus as containing true credibility and viability be culturally related to the broader societal trend to compensate for historic wrongs against the Jews, and to fully side with them post “miraculous” 1967?

After all, the actual arguments for believing the TF to have some degree of Josephan original have nothing in the rules of logic to sustain them. I recall one early twentieth century author writing that if there is any sign of contamination with evidence then in courts of law and schools of history it is necessary to throw the evidence out altogether as, well, contaminated and untrustworthy. And as Ken Olson has demonstrated more recently, by removing a pro-Jesus portions from a sermon by Peter in Acts one is left with a neutral passage about Jesus. That does not prove that the speech was originally neutral. Removing the X’s from a passage XY will always leave us with a Y passage. That, in itself, proves nothing about the nature of the original passage.

Not only is the logic of the key argument flawed, but the assumption that Josephus, one blatantly opposed to any would-be messianic claimant and supposed miracle worker who attracted a following, would ever speak even neutrally of Jesus, let alone positively, is simply untenable.

Yet such shallow arguments have apparently swept into the welcoming arms of the predominantly Christian and church affiliated biblical studies consensus.

But most of these academics are surely bright cookies.

So one is surely justified in asking if there is a more subtle cultural perspective at play here.

Maybe an explanation lies in the broader cultural trend to feel an obligation to compensate for past erroneous and misguided assumptions about Jews, coupled with a positive sense of the goodness of siding favourably with Jews post 1967.

If so, the irony would be that in the case of Josephus’s supposed testimony to Jesus, we have sided with the kind of Jew many moderns would condemn as a “self-hating Jew”. That is the rhetoric used by modern day Jews against their fellows who oppose the Zionist ideology underpinning the modern state of Israel. And Josephus further fulminated against anything in his day that came within a barge pole of supporting “end times” theologies and “Christian Zionism”.

The Testimonium Flavianum: more clues from Eusebius

I have updated my previous post’s timeline of the apparent birth of the passage about Jesus found in Josephus to include all known pre-Eusebian Christian references to Josephus.

In this post I begin to discuss the detailed evidence that this passage (the Testimony of Flavius Josephus, or the Testimonium Flavianum, or TF) was composed by Eusebius himself. While I draw heavily on Ken Olson, and on the augmentation of Olson’s arguments by Earl Doherty, I like to think I also add a few extra layers of evidence here and there. (Mike Duncan – of the Bad Rhetoric blog – argues for another contender, Pamphilus. See his comments dated 7 March at the end of my previous post for a summary.)

ca.324 CE
Eusebius quotes a reference in Josephus to Jesus that survives today in all manuscripts:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

Eusebius in fact cites this passage three times — in three of his works — to assert a reputable Jewish support for the good character of Jesus:

  • Demonstratio Evangelica
  • History of the Church
  • Theophany

Some discussion has arisen over a difference in wording of the TF in these works, and over which was written first, and the implications these ideas have for whether or not Eusebius was necessarily the original fabricator of the TF. I will discuss these questions and my own views of the arguments in a future post.

To take the TF phrase by phrase and see how much is truly Josephan and how much Eusebian, and if Josephan, in what Eusebian context. . . .

1. a wise man (sophos aner)

Josephus uses this descriptor of Solomon and Daniel; he does not associate it with miracle-working or special teaching.

Eusebius uses sophos, a sage, as the opposite of a goes, a charlatan, several times throughout his works.

  1. In Adversus Hieroclem Eusebius challenged Hierocles for describing another miracle worker, Apollonius of Tyre, as a “sophos” on a par with Jesus, yet who is not worshipped as a god. His point appears to have been to demonstrate the excessive credulity of the Christians. Apollonius, like Jesus, performed miracles, but his followers never esteemed him higher than as one beloved by gods.
  2. In Demonstratio Evangelica, Bk 3, ch 5 (Olson) Eusebius is at pains to counter the charge that Jesus is a goes (charlatan, wizard) and pulls out the TF to demonstrate that he was, in fact, a sophos (sage, truly wise man).

Earl Doherty (in Josephus on the Rocks) faults Ken Olson for not pushing his argument far enough:

The question which Olson does not ask is this: why, in this earliest work in which he was concerned to cast Jesus in a favorable light, did Eusebius not appeal to the Testimonium, as he was to do in similar circumstances in two later works? We can hardly presume that he only discovered Josephus in the interim. There is no reason why the Testimonium could not have served his purpose in Adversus Hieroclem. What we may very well presume is that in the interim Eusebius decided it would be a good idea to fabricate something by Josephus to serve this purpose.

This takes us beyond the study of how “Josephan” or “Eusebian” the “sophos aner” description is. But to stick with this digression for a moment – - -

There is a closely related passage by Eusebius in Adversus Hieroclem (chapter IV) that reads to me as if it is a very template of the TF. The words in black type are those of Eusebius, and those in the blue-green are from the TF:

IF then we may be permitted to contrast the reckless and easy credulity which he goes out of his way to accuse us of, with the accurate and well-founded judgment on particular points of the Lover of Truth, let us ask at once,

not which of them was the more divine nor in what capacity one worked more wondrous and numerous miracles than the other ;

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works,

nor let us lay stress on the point that our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ was the only man of whom it was prophesied, thanks to their divine inspiration, by Hebrew sages who lived far back thousands of years ago, that he should once come among mankind ;

He was the Christ . . . . as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.

nor on the fact that he converted to his own scheme of divine teaching so many people ; nor that he formed a group of genuine and really sincere disciples, of whom almost without exaggeration it can be said that they were prepared to lay down their lives for his teaching at a moment’s call ;

a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. . . . those that loved him at the first did not forsake him

nor that he alone established a school of sober and chaste living which has survived him all along ;

And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

nor that by his peculiar divinity and virtue he saved the whole inhabited world, and still rallies to his divine teaching races from all sides by tens of thousands ;

He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles.

nor that he is the only example of a teacher who, after being treated as an enemy for so many years, I might almost say, by all men, subjects and rulers alike, has at last triumphed and shown himself far mightier, thanks to his divine and mysterious power, than the infidels who persecuted him so bitterly, those who in their time rebelled against his divine teaching being now easily won over by him, while the divine doctrine which he firmly laid down and handed on has come to prevail for ages without end all over the inhabited world ; nor that even now he displays the virtue of his godlike might in the expulsion, by the mere invocation of his mysterious name, of sundry troublesome and evil demons which beset men’s bodies and souls, as from our own experience we know to be the case.

He was the Christ . . . And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

To look for such results in the case of Apollonius, or even to ask about them, is absurd.

Note the similarities of theme and close relationship even sequence:

  • a divine man,
  • a worker of miracles (though Eusebius complains that those of Apollonius are wizardry, not genuine),
  • prophesied from old by Hebrew prophets,
  • persuaded many who loved the truth, were sincere, and remained loyal even after his death
  • and who have continued even to the present day
  • from all mankind, Jews and Gentiles,
  • condemned by rulers, yet he has overcome through his powers and the devotion and continuation of his followers

This comparison, I propose, suggests that Eusebius was either totally absent minded or possibly had not yet constructed the TF at the time he wrote against Hierocles. It also strongly suggests that the thought pattern in Eusebius’ mind at the time he was rebutting Hierocles was sustained and survived to become the framework for his subsequent decision to craft the TF.

Comparing this passage in Adversus Hieroclem almost begs for a revision of the references to the TF in Eusebius:

  • [Adversus Hieroclem . . . paraphrased/proto TF]
  • Demonstratio Evangelica
  • History of the Church
  • Theophany

2. if it be lawful to call him a man

Eusebius and other Christian authors are known to have added a qualifier like this after referencing Jesus as a man. This phrase is widely regarded as in interpolation because it presupposes the divinity of Jesus. But there is no logical reason to remove it from the original passage. It fits well with its context. It logically joins the phrases either side of it. After calling Jesus a “man” it explains that he is “more than a man” on the grounds of his ability to perform so many miracles:

. . . a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works . . .

Many scholars have gone along with the idea that by removing this phrase from the passage leaves a less Christian sounding paragraph, something closer to what a Jew like Josephus might have written about Jesus. The logical fallacy here is as astonishing as it is naive and one wonders how it could appear to be so glibly repeated for so long in the discussion. Of course the removal of any red passage from a larger one looking purple will leave it totally blue. Ken Olson, who surely could not have been the first to point such a fallacy, demonstrates this most clearly by showing how a passage from a sermon in Acts can be changed from pro Jesus to neutral Jesus.

3. a doer of wonderful works (paradoxon ergon poietes)

The Greek word here for “doer” or “maker” is “poietes”, which can also be translated as “poet”. Doherty notes that Ken Olson, Robert Eisler and Josephan specialist Steve Mason all confirm that Josephus only ever uses this word to mean “poet”. Its use for the sense of “doer” or “perpetrator” is common among Christian authors, however.

Olson also remarks that Josephus never associates forms of the word paradoxon/s and poietes/poieo to mean the sense of “miracle making”. Eusebius, on the other hand, uses such a combination, and variants of the phrase paradoxon ergon poietes in Demonstratio Evangelica 3.5 — see sections 115, 123, 125 on that page; and History of the Church 1.2.23 — see paragraph 23 there.

This post is taking way way longer than I anticipated — I have an obsession with checking footnotes and other references as far back as I can go before putting keyboard to monitor. Going to have to complete it in spits and spurts.


The Jesus reference in Josephus: its ad hoc doctoring and various manuscript lines

The following time line of the evidence for Josephus’s mention of Jesus (The Testimonium Flavianum) was prompted as part of my preparation to address the discussion by Eddy and Boyd in The Jesus Legend. I will save my comments on how this timeline reflects on their evaluation of the evidence of Josephus till I next address their work.

Meanwhile, the following chronological overview of the extant references, variations and omissions may tell their own story for those interested in exploring this topic.

I have taken portions of the dateline from The Flavius Josephus Home Page. But since that only referred to a few of the relevant citations, most of the remainder is from my distillation of Earl Doherty’s comprehensive 2008 discussion of the manuscript and textual evidence, Josephus On the Rocks. (But since my revision on 7th March I have added quite a few more notes to highlight knowledge of Josephus among Church Fathers prior to Eusebius, but without any apparent knowledge of the Testimonium.)

For those new to this topic, the Testimonium Flavianum is the scholarly name given to the passage about Jesus in the writings of the first century Jewish historian, Josephus. Josephus was a famous for his recording of the history of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE and the events leading to that event, as well as for writing a comprehensive history of the Jewish people with which to impress his Roman patron and audience.

Prior to the latter half of the twentieth century it was widely held by scholars (e.g. Charles Guignebert, Maurice Goguel) that this passage was a complete forgery (but see comment below by Ken Olson here), and that Josephus made no reference to Jesus in any of his works. Since then, there has been a near universal tendency to suggest that at least part of the current passage about Jesus was original to Josephus, and that it had been tampered with by later scribes. I am not convinced that these more recent arguments have overturned the substance of the earlier arguments, but details of the arguments will come in future posts. Those posts will refer back to the timeline below.

93 CE
Josephus
: The book Jewish Antiquities by Josephus is published in Rome. . . Manuscripts surviving today also contain a description of Jesus. But was this description present in the year 93? Josephus, in deference to the sensibilities of his Roman protectors, is at pains to avoid any mention of Jewish Messianic hopes. The only reference to a Messiah is in the description of Jesus and Christians which first appear with Eusebius.

ca.140′s CE
Justin Martyr
writes lengthy polemics against the unbelief of Jews and pagans and arguments for Christianity. No reference to Josephus. Had Josephus written about Jesus, positive or negative, could such works have remained unknown to Justin?

ca.170′s CE
Theophilus, Patriarch of Antioch
writes lengthy polemics against pagan refusal to believe in Christianity. No reference to Jesus in Josephus, although he cites Josephus in his Apology to Autolycus, Bk 3, ch. 23.

ca.180′s CE
Irenaeus
writes at length against unbelief without any reference to a work by Josephus. “[I]t is clear that Irenaeus was unfamiliar with Book 18 of ‘Antiquities’ since he wrongly claims that Jesus was executed by Pilate in the reign of Claudius (Dem. ev. ap. 74), while Antiquities 18.89 indicates that Pilate was deposed during the reign of Tiberius, before Claudius” (Wikipedia’s citation of Whealey’s ‘Josephus on Jesus’). Had Josephus discussed Jesus how could Irenaeus have been ignorant of the fact? Surely some knowledge of such a passage in the famous Jewish historian would have reached Irenaeus and others.

Fragment XXXII from the lost writings of Irenaeus, however, does know Josephus — see 32:53.

ca.190′s CE
Clement of Alexandria
wrote extensively in defence of Christianity against pagan hostility. He knew Josephus’ works — see Stromata Book 1 Chater 21. No reference to any mention of Jesus by Josephus.

ca.200′s CE
Tertullian
wrote lengthy apolegetics against unbelief and in justification of Christianity. No reference to a passage about Jesus by Josephus. But he elsewhere knows Josephus’ works — see Apologeticum ch.19.

ca.200′s CE
Minucius Felix
, another apologist, no references to Jesus from Josephus, although he knows and cites Josephus — see chapter 33.

ca.210′s CE
Hippolytus
wrote volumes of apologetics but appears to know nothing of a reference to Jesus by Josephus. Fragments of his works — see On Jeremiah and Ezekiel.145 — show he knows Josephus.

ca.220′s CE
Sextus Julius Africanus was a Christian historian who is not known to cite Josephus’s passage on Jesus although he did know of Josephus‘s works — see Chatper 17.38 of his Chronography.

ca.230′s CE
Origen knows Josephus
: four citations of Josephus are found here, but none reference a Jesus passage in Josephus.

  1. cites a passage in Josephus on the death of James “the brother of Jesus” (Book 20 of the Antiquities);
  2. states Josephus did not believe in Jesus (Origen in fact notes that Josephus proclaimed the Roman emperor Vespasian as the long awaited world ruler of biblical prophecy).
  3. summarized what Josephus said about John the Baptist in Book 18.
  4. said Josephus attributed destruction of Jerusalem to murder of James the Just (something not found in our copies of the works of Josephus) — (Josephus actually implies the destruction of Jerusalem was punishment for the murder of Ananias).
  5. does not cite any reference to Jesus from Josephus.

ca.240′s CE
Cyprian
(North Africa) prolific apologist with no reference to Jesus in Josephus.

ca.270′s CE
Anatolius, demonstrates his knowledge of Josephus in his Paschal Canon, chapter 3. No reference to Jesus in Josephus.

ca.290′s CE
Arnobius (North Africa) prolific apologist with no reference to Jesus in Josephus.

ca.300′s CE
Methodius, a Church Father who opposed Origen, and cites Josephus (see On the Resurrection — the citation is misplaced at the bottom of the page) but makes no reference to a Jesus passage in Josephus.

ca.300′s CE
Lactantius
(North Africa) prolific apologist with no reference to Jesus in Josephus.

ca.324 CE
Eusebius quotes a reference in Josephus to Jesus that survives today in all manuscripts:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

Some expressions in the above are Josephan, but used in a way contrary to how Josephus uses them elsewhere. Some expressions are characteristic of those found in other writings of Eusebius. More on this in a future post.

Eusebius in fact cites this passage three times — in three of his works — to assert a reputable Jewish support for the good character of Jesus:

  1. Demonstratio Evangelica
  2. History of the Church
  3. Theophany

ca.370′s CE
Jerome
cites Josephus 90 times but cites the Testimonium (the Josephan passage about Jesus) only the once, and that in his Illustrious Men, 13. “It is likely that Jerome knew of the Testimonium from the copy of Eusebius available to him.” (Eddy and Boyd). The silence on the Testimonium outside De Viris Illustribus 13 may well relate to the period prior to his attaining access to the Eusebian text of Josephus.

The one reference of Jerome’s is nearly identical to that of Eusebius except that where Eusebius had “He was the Christ”, Jerome cited Josephus as saying, “He was believed to be the Christ.” From CCEL:

In this same time was Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it be lawful to call him man. For he was a worker of wonderful miracles, and a teacher of those who freely receive the truth. He had very many adherents also, both of the Jews and of the Gentiles, and was believed to be Christ, and when through the envy of our chief men Pilate had crucified him, nevertheless those who had loved him at first continued to the end, for he appeared to them the third day alive. Many things, both these and other wonderful things are in the songs of the prophets who prophesied concerning him and the sect of Christians, so named from Him, exists to the present day.

Jerome, like Origen earlier, also wrote that Josephus interpreted the fall of Jerusalem as punishment for the stoning of James the Just, an interpretation not found in our copies of Josephus.

ca.380′s CE
St John Chrysostom

  1. In his Homily 76 he writes that Jerusalem was destroyed as a punishment for the crucifixion of Jesus.
  2. He discusses Josephus, but makes no reference to any passage about Jesus in Josephus.
  3. In his Homily 13 he writes that Josephus attributed the destruction of Jerusalem to death of John the Baptist.

ca.370′s CE
Latin Pseudo-Hegesippus and the Hebrew Josippon dependent on Ps-Hegesippus, cite free paraphrases of the Josephan reference to Jesus first cited in Eusebius. From Stephen Carlson’s Hypotyposeis:

About which the Jews themselves bear witness, Josephus a writer of histories saying, that there was in that time a wise man, if it is proper however, he said, to call a man the creator of marvelous works, who appeared living to his disciples after three days of his death in accordance with the writings of the prophets, who prophesied both this and innumerable other things full of miracles about him. from which began the community of Christians and penetrated into every tribe of men nor has any nation of the Roman world remained, which was left without worship of him. If the Jews don’t believe us, they should believe their own people. Josephus said this, whom they themselves think very great, but it is so that he was in his own self who spoke the truth otherwise in mind, so that he did not believe his own words. But he spoke because of loyalty to history, because he thought it a sin to deceive, he did not believe because of stubbornness of heart and the intention of treachery. He does not however prejudge the truth because he did not believe but he added more to his testimony, because although disbelieving and unwilling he did not refuse.

ca.400′s CE
Augustine
(North Africa), another prolific apologist, apparently knew nothing of any reference to Jesus by Josephus.

fifth century CE
Tables of Contents of the works of Josephus were attached to Greek manuscripts, “and there is evidence that such tables were already attached to Latin manuscripts of the work as early as the 5th century.” H. Thackeray as cited, in part, by Doherty:

. . . the chapter headings “are ostensibly written by a Jew,” and “though it is improbable that these more elaborate chapter headings are the production of his [Josephus’] pen, they may well be not far removed from him in date.” The Table of Contents for Book 18 lists 20 topics dealt with in the book, but there is no mention of the Testimonium among them. . . .

ca.870′s CE
Photios, Patriarch of Constantinople, citing Earl Doherty’s Josephus On the Rocks:

[Photius] in compiling his Library (a review of several hundred ancient books, including treatises on the works of Josephus) apparently possessed a copy of Josephus which contained no Testimonium, nor even those interpolations we conclude were introduced to make Josephus say that the destruction of Jerusalem was due to the death of James the Just, or of John the Baptist. As Zindler says,

“Since Photius was highly motivated to report ancient attestations to the beginnings of Christianity, his silence here argues strongly that neither the Testimonium nor any variant thereof was present in the manuscript he read. This also argues against the notion that the Testimonium was created to supplant an originally hostile comment in the authentic text of Josephus. Had a negative notice of a false messiah been present in the text read by Photius, it is inconceivable he could have restrained himself from comment thereon.”

Photius does discuss the Antiquities 18 passage on John the Baptist. To think that he would do so yet pass up one about Christ himself—no matter what its nature—is, as Zindler says, quite inconceivable. Photius at a number of points also seems to quote marginal notes from his copy of Josephus, giving evidence of the ease with which such things could have found their way into the original text and given rise to debates about what was authentic to Josephus’ own writings.

10th Century
The Arab Christian historian Agapius quotes a version of the Testimonium that differs from that of Eusebius.

At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good and his learning outstanding. And many people from among  the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon their discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after the crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders. (translation of Shlomo Pines)

11th-12th centuries
Slavonic Josephus
cites another free paraphrase of the Josephan reference to Jesus first cited in Eusebius. This contains the same variant (He was believed to be the Christ) found in Jerome. The passage below is from Solomon Zeitlin:

At that time also a man came forward—if even it is fitting to call him man (simply).  His nature as well as his form were a man’s; but his showing forth was more than (that) of a man.  His works, that is to say, were godly and he wrought wonder deeds amazing and full of power.  Therefore it is not possible for me to call him a man (simply).  But again looking at the existence he shared with all, I would also not call him an angel.  And all that he wrought through some kind of invisible power, he wrought by word and command.  Some said of him that ‘our first Law-giver has risen from the dead and shows forth many cures and arts’.  But others supposed (less definitely) that he is sent by God.  Now he opposed himself in much to the Law, and did not observe the Sabbath according to ancestral custom.  Yet, on the other hand, he did nothing reprehensible nor any crime, but by word solely he effected everything.  And many from the folk followed him and received his teachings.  And many souls became wavering, supposing that thereby the Jewish tribes would free themselves from the Romans’ hands.  Now it was his custom often to stop on the Mount of Olives, facing the city.  And there also be avouched his curse to the people.

And he gathered themselves to him of servants a hundred and fifty, but of the folk a multitude.  But when they saw his power, that he accomplished everything that he would by word, they urged him that he should enter the city and cut down the Roman soldiers and Pilate, and rule over us.  But that one scorned it.  And thereafter when knowledge of it came to the Jewish leaders, they gathered together with the high priest and spoke: ‘We are powerless and weak to withstand the Romans.  But as withal the bow is bent, we will go and tell Pilate what we have heard, and we will be without distress, lest if he hear it from others, we be robbed of our substance and ourselves be put to the sword and our children ruined.’  And they went and told it to Pilate.

And he sent and had many of the people cut down.  And he had that wonder-doer brought up.  And when he had instituted a trial concerning him he perceived that he is a doer of good, but not an evil-doer, nor a revolutionary, nor one who aimed at power, and let him free.  He had, you should know, healed his dying wife.  And he went to his accustomed place and wrought his accustomed works.  And as again more folk gathered themselves together round him, then did he win glory through his works more than all.

The teachers of the law were (therefore) envenomed with envy and gave thirty talents to Pilate, in order that he should put him to death.  And he, after he had taken the money, gave consent that they should themselves carry out their purpose, and they took and crucified him according to the ancestral law.

For more extracts from the Slavonic Josephus see Mead’s citations on the Sacred Texts website.

R.I.P. F.F.Bruce on the Testimonium Flavianum

Where would one expect to find the most sound treatment of the textual and historical significance of the Testimonium Flavianum — in a work by a tried a true academic specializing in early Christian studies or in a lay outsider presuming to challenge the core working paradigm of those studies? F.F. Bruce’s “Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament” has been recommended more than once over recent years as an essential read for anyone wanting to come to grips with the Testimonium Flavianum, if only as a sound and sobering antidote to “radical nonsense” touted by “nonacademic upstarts”, with Earl Doherty being the principal one in mind. In fact, I once made a special 4 hour (two-way) trip to a university library just to consult this recommended reference on the strength of the erudition and assurances of an academic who strongly suggested it would put to rest any doubts raised by the nonsense pushed by the likes of Doherty re the TF. This piece is no doubt a smarting reaction against what I would like to think was a practical joke on the part of the academic rather than a true reflection of his knowledge and analysis of what Bruce has to say.

So I have finally prepared a comparison of the treatment of the Testimonium Flavianum by both Bruce (“Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament“) and Doherty (“The Jesus Puzzle“), and share it here with anyone else interested when and if similarly challenged by an academic to go to Bruce as an antidote to Doherty on this particular point. At least let it serve as a warning not to fall for the same practical joke some academics seem to enjoy playing on innocent, trusting laypersons.

Before getting into the detail of Bruce’s discussion of the TF there is another passage by Bruce I would love to share — this time with academics who scoff at views of those “less enlightened” who dismiss the TF in toto:

“[M]any students have come to the conclusion that the paragraph was interpolated by some Christian copyist or editor into the record of Josephus between the time of Origen and the time of Eusebius. It is a reasonable conclusion, held by many Christian scholars; and we must not accuse a man of undermining the case for historic Christianity because he cannot accept the authenticity of this paragraph. For, after all, it is not on the authority of Josephus that Christians believe in Christ!” (p.38 )

So what reasons does Bruce list and discuss to argue that the TF very likely represents core evidence for the historical existence of Jesus Christ?

On page 36 Bruce concludes a brief look (approx 350 words) at the reference to “the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, James” by asking if there is any more direct reference in Josephus’ work to Jesus. This leads to his discussion of the TF.

Bruce notes that the TF was known to Eusebius but that, “if we look at it carefully” (sic) (p.37) we will see that it contains wording only a Christian could use. This is underscored in the case of the sentence “He was the Christ” by explaining that Josephus elsewhere expressed his belief that the Christ was Vespasian, and that Origen a century before Eusebius also wrote that Josephus did not believe Jesus was the Christ.

So what reason(s) does Bruce give for thinking that Josephus did write at least something here about Jesus? I counted at least 1 (but I did keep counting many times looking for more so here they all are):

1. “The passage contains some characteristic samples of the diction of Josephus . . . ” (p.38 )

2. See 1. above

3. See 1. above

4. See 1. above

But to be fair, though, Bruce does let this single reason spawn a lengthier list of scholarly speculations on what that original Josephan passage might have said:

  • Klausner reconstructs the passage by removing the most obvious christian statements: “if it be lawful to call him a man”, “he was the christ”, and the account of his resurrection.
  • In the time of Domitian it is more likely that Josephus would not have made any favourable comment about Christianity, hence original may have included negative expressions about Christ and Christianity as well such as:

– “a source of further trouble” (Robert Eisler, to connect the passage to what had gone before)

– “strange things” to replace “true things” (H. St. J. Thackeray since to Josephus Christianity was more strange than true)

– “[he was the] so-called [Christ]” (G.C. Richards and R. J. H. Shutt, to match “the so-called Christ” elsewhere in Josephus – and some reference to Christ is necessary here to make sense of the subsequent explanation of how the Christians got their name)

– [did not cease] to cause trouble” (Without some phrase like “to cause trouble” added here it is not known in what sense the Christians “did not cease”)

Conclusion? Hold your breath, now prepare to inhale what you are about to exhale, and study the circularity of hot air:

it seems clear (a) that Josephus’s paragraph about Jesus is not a wholesale interpolation; (b) that Josephus did not write it in the form in which it has been handed down to us.” (p.40)

And that’s it. Bruce has let his list of scholarly speculations of what an original Josephan core might have said (if there was one) cloud the fact that his conclusion rests entirely on the fact that the TF includes Josephan language. There are 2 major flaws here:

  1. Bruce offers no suggestion that there could be any reason to doubt that Josephan language in the TF must suggest that Josephus wrote something here about Jesus after all;
  2. Bruce appears to have let his array of speculations about what Josephus may originally have written persuade him enough to say “it seems clear” that Josephus did write something here about Jesus.

Bruce does conclude with a footnote on the tenth-century Arabic version of the TF, noting that it “may preserve a less thorough-going Christian editing of the original than does the traditional Greek text; at any rate it helps to confirm that Josephus did write about Jesus.” (p.41)

No argument, no details, no presentation of contrary opinions, just a footnote. (Garnering information “on the internet” is sometimes derided by academics who insist true in depth learning can only be found in hard copies of books, but in the case of checking more detailed information and arguments about this Arabic version I did come across a Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephus_on_Jesus#Arabic_version

On the view Bruce expressed in his footnote this “internet” source says:

However, Pines’ theory has not been widely accepted. The fact that even the title of Josephus’s work is inaccurate suggests that Agapius is quoting from memory, which may explain the discrepancies with the Greek version. In addition, the claim that Pilate condemned Jesus to be crucified and to die has been interpreted as a reaction to the Muslim belief that Jesus did not really die on the cross.

Thank god for the internet to help me fill out footnotes in books I drive 4 hours to pick up!

Bruce’s next chapter is titled “The Slavonic Josephus”. Perhaps, I originally hoped, here I would find the reason for being advised to read this book for a more complete understanding of the debates surrounding the TF and its relevance as evidence for the historical Jesus. But sadly, Bruce writes on the first page of this chapter:

“In fact, it is as certain as anything can be in the realm of literary criticism that they [the Slavonic extracts relating to Jesus et al.] were not part of what Josephus wrote at all, but had been interpolated into the Greek manuscripts from which the Old Russian translation was made.” (p.42)

Compare, now, what I learned about the TF from Doherty’s “Jesus Puzzle”:

1. Josephus could not have written the TF as we have it because he did not subscribe to Christian doctrine (= F.F. Bruce)

2. There are 4 suspect sections in the TF (c.f. F.F.Bruce singling out 3 passages)

Arguments that Josephus wrote an original core on which the TF was built:

3. Vocabulary in the TF is characteristic of Josephus (= F.F.Bruce)

4. A Christian forger would not have limited himself to such short passage

5. A distilled Josephan original has no gospel flavour

6.Meier argues that Church Fathers would have failed to have referred to this passage because it testified to Josephus’s unbelief

7. Origen’s statement that Josephus did not accept Jesus as the Christ is an oblique reference to the TF

To reconstruct the Josephan original core statement we need to consider:

8. That the original was neutral regarding Jesus (= F.F.Bruce)

9. That the original was hostile regarding Jesus (=F.F.Bruce)

10. That Josephus’s information came from official Roman records

11. That Josephus is likely to have made some put-down reference to the belief of Christians that Jesus was resurrected.

So I learned at least twice as much about the debates and discussion surrounding the TF from Earl Doherty’s book than I did from that by F.F. Bruce. An academic might assume that Doherty presents a one-sided discussion. I would say that Bruce has certainly presented a one-sided and narrow discussion about the TF as evidence for the historical Jesus. But Doherty presents arguments for and against on each point, concluding that within the framework of the most thoroughly addressed arguments in scholarship that the debate could go either way. He then looks at the broader context and issues in which the Josephan writings are embedded and presents fresh arguments that weigh far more decisively than Bruce’s default “it contains Josephan language … it seems clear”. Doherty’s strength is that he does not limit his discussion of the TF to the immediate textual issues. He weighs the broader context of what scholarship also informs us about what was known of Christianity in Rome around the time that Josephus wrote. He does this in part by drawing on the letters — and beliefs about Christ — of Paul. He considers the question of non-citation by Church Fathers in the broader context of what they did cite — thus breaking the narrow arguments of Meier (see point 6 above). Doherty also goes beyond the various speculations about what an original Josephan passage might have written by treating each one to an in-depth analysis within the broader context of what was known about Josephus, Christianity, and other cultural and political attitudes at the time.

Doherty’s treatment of the TF does not answer all the questions that have been raised about it. (I understand he has addressed the question in more depth on his website since publication of his book.) But if any academic recommends that you turn from Doherty and go to Bruce to better grasp the sound basics of the TF and its significance as evidence for the historical Jesus, be warned. That academic is only pulling your leg. Tricky buggers, some of them!

Neil


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